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The government has said that reforming welfare for EU migrants is an ‘absolute requirement’ in its EU renegotiations. The prime minister has said he wants to restrict child benefit and tax credits for EU migrants until they have lived and contributed in the UK for at least four years. This briefing explains why the government is highly unlikely to secure agreement from other EU leaders on that proposal, and outlines an alternative proposal for reform that is fairer and more plausible.1

Our proposal is that the prime minister should use the renegotiations to change EU legislation in order to:

  • Ensure that EU migrant jobseekers only gain access to non-contributory unemployment benefits after having worked in the UK.
  • Ensure that EU migrant jobseekers must work for three years in the UK to receive the same access to non-contributory benefits as UK nationals if they become unemployed.
  • Extend the exportability of unemployment benefits so that EU migrants can claim unemployment benefit from the country where they became unemployed for a minimum of six months.

In practice, this would create a ‘sliding scale’ of access to benefits such as income-based jobseeker’s allowance:

  • EU migrants seeking a job in the UK for the first time would have no access to income-based jobseeker’s allowance, but would be able to export unemployment benefits from their former country of work for a minimum of six months. Currently after three months of residence they have at least three months’ access to income-based jobseeker’s allowance, provided they pass the habitual residence test.
  • EU migrants who become involuntarily unemployed after working in the UK for less than three years would have three months’ access to income-based jobseeker’s allowance. Currently they typically have six months’ access, with the possibility of a short extension.
  • EU migrants who become involuntarily unemployed after working in the UK for three or more years would have the same access to income-based jobseeker’s allowance as UK nationals, with no time restrictions. Currently they typically have six months’ access, with the possibility of a short extension.

1 See appendix 1 for a Q&A on our proposals, and appendix 2 for a summary of the implications of these proposals for income-based JSA, housing benefit and universal credit